Kenna and Russ Coltman opened City Center Garden Market in Conneaut, Ohio in the spring of 2006 after 9 months of planning. The market was a combination of Kenna’s passion for plants, and Russ’s passion for food, and the concept was a hit. The beauty of the perennial and annual plants on the outside drew people into the store and the smells and tastes of the fresh produce, cheeses and deli kept people coming back for more.
Russ and I grew up only a few miles apart on family farms, so we both benefited from learning the value of work and being of service. Russ explains how this translated to his business:
“We made sure that we hired only people with a passion for either food or plants and instilled not only our mission, but also our vision and values for running the market. We started with cleaning out a 1300 square foot abandoned building and built a farm market & deli that fed our family and had seasonal high employment of 8 people.”
Russ and Kenna were mission and values-driven. This is mission and values statement that hung on the wall for not only employees to see, but customers as well:
At City Center Garden Market, we will strive to provide a positive force and example for our children, employees, suppliers and our community, with the guiding principal of conducting business in a way that helps everyone to succeed and grow. This will be a successful business that promotes people first, is on the leading edge of redevelopment of our community, and serves as an example of how to implement solid business practices to the benefit of all involved.
The mission of City Center Garden Market is to successfully retail farm, garden and country artisan products from the local (Conneaut and Northeast Ohio) community in a family-oriented, friendly, relaxed atmosphere, where people come first.
Key values include:
• Maintain a family-friendly environment
• Retail only high-quality and healthful products
• Use local suppliers whenever possible
• Cultivate mutual trust and respect
• Share the success across the board – with employees, suppliers, customers and the community
From this framework, Russ and Kenna built a wonderful farm market & deli in their community.
Russ and I had emailed about the concepts he and Kenna used to build their business and the similarity to the principles of The Fred Factor. I asked Russ to share the philosophy that lead to the success of City Center Garden Market.
“For the longest time, I have hesitated sharing Fred Factor stories about our great people. What some considered above and beyond, we thought of as normal decent human behavior. Little things were standard at our store. Every customer was greeted at the door with a smile and hello, most of them by name. Bags of groceries were cheerfully carted out to your car. Samples of food were always provided. Advice was freely given on how to cook a new ingredient. Care instructions were always provided for new plants. All of these value-added touches were provided free of charge. We had elderly customers who would pull up to the parking lot and honk the horn. We would run out, take their shopping order, and then run the complete order out to them. We would deliver our soups to the lady on oxygen three doors down. And in the weeks before another elderly customer passed away, we made sure he had a delivery of his favorite foods every other night. We had an entire Army of Fred’s working for us – people who took the axiom treat thy neighbor as thyself to heart and acted on it each and every day.
Most of these ideas stemmed from our employees, and to this day, two years after selling the market, they are some of our most prized accomplishments. At the time, my wife and I thought of these acts as common courtesy. Today, I have come to understand the power of our policy ‘take care of the customer, and they will take care of you.’
As the owners, my wife and I decided to put people first – both employees and customers, treating them like we wanted to be treated. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough and we had some very hard financial times building a farm market from scratch. We made some near fatal mistakes, but we survived. And grew. And grew. Over five years, our average sales growth was 35% per year in a small community with a population hovering around 10,000 people. But after five years, we chose to sell the business to take care of our ten-year-old son during his cancer treatment. It was a very tough decision to make, but in the end, it is people who matter, and nothing is more important than family. Our child’s needs had to come first.
So you might ask, how did it pay off? Many fold. Facing an upcoming bone marrow transplant for our son, we knew we would be facing very difficult financial times. Our customers – family, friends, the community and school system – all came out in force to support us. Words of encouragement, prayers, meals, parking passes, lawn mowing, car repairs, gas cards, gifts, and so much other help came pouring in – much of it beyond monetary measure and such a comfort in our time of need. It all went above and beyond our expectations, but we firmly believe it was because we had done the same for our customers and employees at our little hometown market. The assistance came at a time when we desperately needed help so we could take care of our family. Yes, excellent customer service pays off, in ways you cannot imagine!”
Epilogue: Russ and Kenna sold their business after five successful years and pursued other business opportunities, but they still use the philosophies and values that created City Center Garden Market.